Australian biotech developments can give independence to quadriplegics


Australian companies have made significant strides in biomedical technologies that deliver remedies in new ways. One, Orthocell, even has nerve repair treatments that can give independence back to quadriplegic patients.


The group, which floated on the ASX in 2014, has developed innovative Australian methods to repair damaged bone and tissue using collagen. The technology effectively builds artificial medical devices that are completely absorbed into the body to help facilitate the repair of bone, nerve, tendon and cartilage damage following surgery or injury.

Once absorbed the device, known as CelGro “acts as a barrier membrane to keep the outside world at bay”, Orthocell CEO Paul Anderson said. That allows healing to go ahead uninterrupted using collagen, a protein produced by the body that forms a scaffold to provide strength and structure within the body.

It is an essential component of connective tissue and plays a crucial role in holding the body’s cells together along with giving strength and elasticity to the skin.

The most recent development uses the technology to facilitate dental bone and soft tissue repair in the human jaw. It has been approved by medical regulators in the Australian, European and American markets.

“We have just signed an exclusive licence and distribution agreement with Biohorizon, one of the largest dental companies in the world,” Mr Anderson said. “So now we will manufacture our product locally in Australia and transfer it to our partners in the US.”

However, potential uses go beyond bone and soft tissue repair. Orthocell recently widened its horizons to nerve repair following a recent trial involving quadriplegics.

Their technology involves “the regeneration of human nerve tissue, returning paralysed muscles to function again”, Mr Anderson said.

That product, Remplir, has been approved by the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration with applications for approvals in Europe and the US underway.

‘Paradigm shift’

Orthocell technologies represent “a paradigm shift in bone and soft tissue reconstruction and have distinct competitive advantages over existing tissue repair devices, particularly in the areas of cell compatibility, mechanical properties (strength and ease of use) and facilitating high-quality tissue repair,” the company report stated.

Traditional repair techniques involve “plunging a needle and thread into a nerve which itself does damage and creates scar tissue”, Mr Anderson said.

However, Remplir creates a very strong and flexible collagen sheet that “acts like a little bit of velcro that pulls the nerve area together and sticks it using only one or two sutures instead of 12”. The collagen sheet mimics the outside of the nerve; Orthocell expects sutures will not be needed at all, over time.

To date, research has shown that Remplir results in an “85 per cent recovery rate that allows people to lead a more independent life”, Mr Anderson said.

That doesn’t mean full recovery for quadriplegics but it means “they can toilet themselves, move from their bed to a wheelchair, hold their children and assist in domestic activities”, he said.

Orthocell technology was first developed at the University of Western Australia. The company does have commercial cash flow and $30 million in the can for product development, despite a $9.03 million loss in 2021.

Telix Pharmaceuticals

The listed Australian company with a stock market value of $1.7 billion, Telix, does fancy things with nuclear radiation therapies. Its technologies allow far more targeted radiotherapy and radio imaging by directing radiation to molecules carrying cancer.

Telix technologies target cancerous cells.

Using what is known as MTR (molecularly targeted radiation) therapy, a radionuclide is attached to a targeting agent such as a small molecule or antibody which binds to tumours and delivers a radioactive payload in a highly selective way.

“Using MTR to combine imaging and therapy, Telix’s technology has the potential to dramatically improve the way clinicians can find and treat cancer and deliver truly personalised therapy for patients living with cancer and rare diseases,” the company stated.

When used for cancer treatment, MTR attacks a wider variety of cancer cells, damages the structure of cancer cells and encourages the immune system to join the fight. It also means the treatment does less damage to other cells and has fewer side-effects for the patient.

Seeing the cancer

The first cab off the rank for commercialisation has been the treatment known as Illuccix for prostate cancer imaging. It was approved by the TGA and the US Food and Drug Administration late last year.

It has started to sell in the US with co-founder and CEO Dr Chris Behrenbruch estimating an annual market in that country of $US1 ($A1.5 billion) to $US1.5 billion.

The US FDA approval represents “the transition from a development-stage organisation to a commercial firm,” Dr Behrehbruch said, following news of the achievement.

The group has also done a distribution deal with China Grand Pharmaceutical for exclusive distribution in Mainland China, Macau, Hong Kong and Taiwan covering all the technologies it develops.

In the first six months of the year, Illuccix sales delivered $A19.3 million after being dispensed across 149 pharmacies in the US. The ability of the product to be delivered through what is known as nuclear pharmacies as opposed to costly cyclotrons used to produce its competition’s technologies is a big advantage.

“You make it when you need it,” Dr Behrenbruch told Biotech Daily. “[Fast food outlet] Subway is successful because it’s on every street corner. We’re on every corner, which is important when you are talking about a product with a couple of hours of street life.” 

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